Parliament’s attempt to kill a bill that will give cheap drugs to AIDS sufferers in Africa
The Varsity, November 29, 2010
By Sahar Golshan
What has the support of 80 per cent of Canadians, could improve the lives of millions, yet is being destroyed in the House of Commons? The answer: Bill C-393.
In observance of World AIDS Day 2010 on December 1, I’d like to share the true story of a groundbreaking Canadian idea to fight HIV/AIDS.
Once upon a time lived an act called Jean Chrétien’s Pledge to Africa. Born on May 13, 2004, it was the first of its kind, representing a bold attempt to circumvent the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in favour of greater global access to medication. That year, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham announced “Canada is very proud to be the first country to take concrete action to implement this important decision, which will go a long way toward improving global health.”
In 2005, an all-party agreement transformed the act into the Canadian Access to Medicines Regime. Despite the nice words on paper, CAMR is fraught legislation, and has been from the start. CAMR poses numerous barriers to developing countries, and is not financially feasible for pharmaceutical companies.
In the past five years, the only “success” CAMR has to its name is a sole shipment of only one kind of drug to a single country. Contrary to the view of many Conservative MPs, the isolated shipment to Rwanda in 2008 does not render CAMR a successful Canadian law. Far from facilitating access, CAMR is nearly unusable.
CAMR’s practical failure was met with a hopeful alternative in May 2009. Bill C-393 is a private member’s bill submitted by New Democratic MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Bill C-393 is an act to amend CAMR in an effort to create a “one-licence solution.” Passing the bill into law would mean that a generic pharmaceutical company like Apotex Inc. would only require one licence in order to distribute its low-price drugs to multiple countries on multiple occasions. Apotex is Canada’s largest generic pharmaceutical manufacturer, and has made a pledge to export low-price drugs to developing countries should CAMR embrace the simpler “one-licence solution” proposed in Bill C-393.
Make no mistake: Bill C-393 has defied odds. Now in its second reading, the private member’s bill was submitted to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology in March, 2010 once Parliament resumed after prorogation. Die-hard supporters include former prime minister Paul Martin, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, and Founder of Dignitas International James Orbinski. The bill also has the support of 37 humanitarian organizations.
To the immense shame of a Canadian legacy, Bill C-393 has now made a turn for the worst. On November 1, 2010, Liberal critic of industry, science, and technology of Marc Garneau, amended the bill by eliminating the crucial clause which called for a “one-licence solution.”
Garneau’s amendment undermined the entire process, rendering the bill meaningless and irrelevant. It is now time to go back to the drawing board for the MPs, activists, and humanitarian organizations who have fought endlessly for this life-saving bill.
What’s more, Garneau’s rationale holds no water. The Liberal MP disregards the WTO’s Doha Declaration, which states that “the TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health.” This explicit statement welcomes the immense reform demanded by supporters of Bill C-393.
According to UNAIDS, 10 million out of the 33.3 million people living with HIV still do not have access to medicine. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS is a long-proven threat to global public health and must take precedence. Intellectual Property Rights need to take the backseat.
What can we do in the face of Canada’s frustrating double standard?
“Shut the F#$% up.”
Remember Senator Nancy Ruth’s notorious statement prior to this past summer’s G8 Summit? After Canada announced its exclusion of abortion from the country’s Maternal Health Initiative, Ruth cautioned development organizations to keep quiet.
“This is not about women’s health in this country,” Ruth said. Her words depict the precise problem of the Canadian double standard.
Is Canada — a country dedicated to the right to universal health care — truly concerned with the health care of non-Canadian adults and children who live with HIV/AIDS?
Though it looks grim, it’s not the end of the story for Bill C-393. Its survival depends on our own political will to speak up.
Although last May Senator Ruth warned us to “be quiet for five weeks,” this December we need to remind ourselves of the words of Canadian AIDS activist Stephen Lewis.
“Every day counts.”